What are Personal Boundaries and why do we need them?
Personal boundaries are the physical, emotional and mental limits that define one person as separate from another. Having healthy boundaries means accepting that we are separate individuals with our own emotions, needs, attitudes and values and that others are all separate individuals with their own emotions, needs, attitudes and values. They do not have the right to control us, nor do you have the right to control them.
Having healthy boundaries means taking responsibility for all that is ‘me’ and not taking responsibility for what is ‘not me’. This notion is not always easy to achieve and maintain in practice, even for someone with good personal boundaries, but it is a vitally important intention to hold if we want to honor ourselves and to have positive healthy relationships.
- Boundaries help define our sense of self
- Boundaries protect us
- Boundaries put us in charge of our own lives
- Boundaries promote healthy relationships (Maggie Down, 2002)
Setting Personal Boundaries
The purpose of having boundaries is to protect and take care of ourselves. We need to be able to tell other people when they are acting in ways that are not acceptable to us. A first step is knowing that we have a right to protect and defend ourselves and that we have a duty to take responsibility for how others treat us. With boundaries, as in every area of the healing process, change starts with awareness. It is impossible to have a healthy relationship with someone who has no boundaries, with someone who cannot communicate directly, and honestly.
What is so powerful and effective about the inner child healing process is that it changes our core relationship with ourselves. Once we start having a more loving relationship with ourselves, everything changes. We start to naturally and normally set boundaries with others, speak our truth, own our right to be alive and be treated with respect and dignity.
To start learning how to set boundaries and assert ourselves, without changing the core relationship with ourselves, will ultimately not work in the relationships we care most about. It is relatively easy to start setting boundaries in relationships that don’t mean much to us – it is in the relationships that mean the most to us that it is so difficult. That is because, it is these relationships – family, romantic, etc – that our inner child wounds are the most powerful. The little child within us does not feel worthy, feels defective and shameful, and is terrified of setting boundaries for fear everyone will leave. The other extreme of this phenomena is those of us who throw up huge walls to try to keep people from getting too close – and sabotage any relationship that starts getting too intimate – to try to protect the wounded child within from being hurt.
Learning how to set boundaries is a necessary step in learning to be a friend to ourselves. It is our responsibility to take care of ourselves, to protect ourselves and it is impossible to be loving to ourselves without owning our rights and responsibilities as co-creators of our lives.
It is important to state our feelings out loud, and to precede the feeling with “I feel.” This is owning the feeling. By stating the feeling out loud we are affirming that we have a right to these feelings. We are affirming it to ourselves and taking responsibility for owning our reality. When we say “I am angry” instead of “I feel angry”, we are stating that the feeling is who we are. Emotions do not define us, they are a form of internal communication that help us to understand ourselves. They are a vital part of our being. It is vitally important to own our own voice; to own our right to speak up for ourselves.
Changing our relationship with ourselves and life is vital in order to make any long term changes in our relationships with others. It is vital to respect and honour ourselves so that we can awaken to the need to have boundaries that let other people know that we deserve and demand respect. (Robert Burney, 2008)